20 - "First Strike"
Originally Written: March 25th, 2000

...Dedicated to Iliana...

"...There were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings...and an earthquake. And there
followed hail and fire mingled with blood. There fell a great star from heaven, burning
as if it were a lamp...and I beheld, and heard an angel...saying with a loud voice...woe,
woe, WOE, to the inhabiters of the Earth..."

November 5th, 2000
A cold wind passed through even the mightiest of steel barriers, leaving it's trail in
streaks of ivory frost splashed across the windows. The ever furious wrath of Nature's
ultimate plague had gained strength, wreaking havoc upon the city as the nights grew
colder, longer, darker. Autumn had settled in, and would soon give way to an even more
frigid Winter. The weather patterns had returned to normal after the battle with Madoc
and meteorologists were predicting a heavy load of snow was on the way.

But for the gargoyles, it signaled more time to spend outside of their stone prisons. And
for one in particular, it was a most pleasurable gift, to be able to utilize every extra
opportunity to be with his recently expanded family.

Goliath reclined in the large mahogany rocking chair, barely a movement on his part to
invoke a soothing rhythm back and forth across the carpeting, holding a small bundle in
muscular arms, dwarfed by his massive frame. As hard as he may try, his charcoal stare
could not be forcefully torn from his newborn daughter, who was sleeping, nestled in the
shawl given to her by Sata. She was deep asleep and had curled into a little ball, her
wings draped around her shoulders.

When the strength was found to finally break from his daughter's bewitching beauty, he
turned his pensive gaze onto the room around him, the small nursery adjoining his and
Elisa's bedroom. Trinity's wooden antique crib lay to the side, beneath the caress of the
large bay window, filled to the brim with an explosion of blankets and stuffed animals,
where her tiny form would often get lost among a mixture of colored fur and soft fabrics.

Wooden shelves lined the walls, filled with storybooks given to Trinity by her older sister
Delilah. The new parents had already used these stories to comfort the child when she
became upset. Further along, between volumes of Beatrice Potter and Dr. Suess, he
noticed the small statue, sculpted by Annika, and smirked at his mighty form brought to
life perfectly by her talented hands.

He clicked fast to her dresser, where the entire surface was covered with vast amounts of
congratulatory cards given to the Mazas by all their friends and family. But one card
stood out, very large and with vibrant colors, sure to catch the eye of any onlooker. A
gift, along with a massive bouquet of flowers, from Maria Chavez, who was on duty the
night of Trinity's birth and could not be there. Yet when the sun faded from the city's
clutch, she rushed to the castle as Elisa and her daughter awakened, and the gargoyles
broke from their shells of hardened granite. A maternal instinct she thought had once
withered, was instantly renewed as she held the newly born gargoyle girl in her arms.

His thorough examination of his daughter's small room was broken, when upon the
waves of air, a soft measured stride, familiar to his ears, became ever louder and
encroached on his backside.

Elisa had entered the nursery, her bare feet allowing her to silently pad along the floor
with the grace of a cat stalking it's prey. She had crept up to the chair and leaned on his
shoulder, her slender hand reaching into the blanketed bundle in Goliath's embrace. She
smiled as her tiny daughter moved slightly in her slumber, perhaps responding to her
warm skin.

Goliath gently delivered the sleeping child into her mother's awaiting arms and stood, his
dark eyes following his wife on her short journey to the crib to lay Trinity into the
mountain of warm blankets. Goliath came to her side and wrapped his arms around her
as they watched their daughter with paternal pride as she settled deeper into her bed.

"Goodnight, my baby girl." Elisa whispered as she led Goliath from the crib and out of
the room, an arm reaching out and lightly slapping the lightswitch, bathing the room
within the darkness of the Autumn clouds. The couple moved to their own bed and laid
down in each other's loving touch. "I never knew just how much happiness having a
child could bring into my life." Elisa spoke softly as she turned in Goliath's arms to face
him. "She's been with us for five days and I can't take my eyes off her. I sit for hours
just holding her in my arms, watching her sleep or feeling her tiny fist wrapped around
my finger."

"I do the same thing, my Elisa." Goliath's deep voice rumbled gently, sending shivers
down Elisa's physique, pressed close to his muscular form. "It's hard to believe that a
small child can have such a large presence in our lives. I am lucky enough to have three
daughters, but I'm truly blessed to be able to raise Trinity from the moment of her birth."

"I'm glad you're here as well. She needs her daddy to help guide her through her life.
And besides," she perked up, leaning on her left elbow and running her delicate fingers
across the sharp lines of his features, "I guess she'll need to know how to fly someday,
and I'm sure as hell not showing her how to do that." Elisa chuckled slightly as she
nestled closer into her husband's warm body.

"I'll tell you what, Elisa, I'll teach her how to glide...if you teach her how to drive."
Goliath said as his small wife laughed even harder within his arms.

****************************************

Nightstone Unlimited, an unparalleled multi-national corporation, only rivaled in the
entire world by Xanatos Enterprises, sat wearily within the stifling congregation of
Manhattan's business district, shrouded by shadows thrown upon the walls by the
streetlights beyond. The offices had been abandoned, as it was past their usual business
hours of the day. Barely a sign of life appeared past the tinted glass, save for the
janitorial crew and the security guards.

The moon had been hidden by the light cloud cover, and the upper ether aloft the city
was nothing but murky gray, fading into an ebony void beyond the horizon. What
illumination there was, erupted from the spotlights just inside Nightstone's boundaries,
guiding the way for the security guards as they patrolled the area. Though they felt safe
in the soft bask of unnatural light, a dispiriting quandary has been created. For the
brighter the light, the darker the deep shadows it created, disguising anything, or anyone,
that might conceal themselves in the deep recesses of twilight's playful hands.

Gus Johnson was an older man, and had started here when Nightstone first opened. He
had done his best to keep his job, as it paid quite well and he and his wife had three
children to support. He had been assigned the rear lot behind the building, enclosed with
high wire-mesh fences with barbed wire running it's entire length. He slowly trekked
about the perimeter, his eyes trained on the ground before him. Though to find anything
enthralling about the outside lot would be quite difficult, he did his job to the best of his
abilities, keeping an ever vigilant eye.

After hours of the tiring examination of his designated territory, he had slipped under one
of the towering lights to break out his pack of cigarettes, even though his wife had
repeatedly asked him to stop, and rest his weary feet. As he held the lighter to his face,
he noticed a slight rustling beyond the reach of the light. His hands slowly dropped and
his gaze fell upon the darkness surrounding him. He edged closer, hearing the almost
undetectable sound of movement he thought to be just in front of him. He was right.

A pair of golden, burning lights had appeared in the shadows, and he watched with
loathsome curiosity as they seemed to float steadily upwards, growing brighter, and
seeming to pierce through his ample flesh and bury their malevolence in his heart.

"Harry," the older man hesitantly called out, "is that you?"

"Hardly, human..." a low growling voice answered his inquiry.

"What the hell?!!..." Before the man could react, the two lights flashed towards him and
a large form came into the light, eclipsing the human in a suffocating vacuity of a
misshapen shadow. He tried to reach for his holster and the gun resting inside, but the
figure was upon him, two large hands around his neck in an instant. His two hundred
thirty pound body was lifted effortlessly from the ground as the arms tightened their grip.
He could feel the hot breath of hatred on his neck and the smell of death was upon him.
Within the benumbed blur of the last seconds, his thoughts centered on his wife and kids.
"Carol..."

SNAP.

His lifeless body fell to the ground, the vertebrae in his neck jutting from his skin like a
child's broken toy. His eyes were still open, staring up into the light, and reflecting a
distorted form in glassy corneas, before they too clouded over as the specter of the dying
claimed his soul.

The figure moved swiftly away from the body and moved to the rear doors of Nightstone,
the only sound made, a quiet laughing which grew into a murderous cackle, echoing
through the courtyard, and biting into the icy wind.

****************************************

It was well after midnight and Goliath and Elisa were still in their room, laying on the
sheets and blankets of their unmade bed, wrapped haphazardly about their bodies.
Despite Goliath's numerous attempts to prompt his wife to keep up the cleanliness of the
room, her pre-married existence had still reigned supreme. Elisa drifted in and out of
sleep as her giant love held her in his arms. Though well rested, she was caught in her
paramour's infectious touch, paralyzing her entire body to the point of a blissful slumber
in perchance the most comfortable place she had ever experienced. His chest swelled
with every gulp of air, as she tuned her senses to the rhythmic tempo of his breathing,
losing herself in his authoritative presence.

But her restful pause was crushed by the high-pitched screech of the telephone next to
her bed. Elisa shot up like a rocket and looked around her before eventually reaching for
the endtable at arm's length. She grumbled something incoherently and picked up the
receiver, holding it to her ear. "Hello?"

"Detective." A familiar voice answered back.

"Demona??" Elisa looked to Goliath who was now at her side, surprised that Demona
would call them.

"Yes, detec...Elisa. There has been an incident at my company and I could use your help,
as well as the clans'."

"What kind of incident?" Elisa asked, knowing Demona was intentionally holding back.

"One of my employees was...murdered less than half an hour ago, and his killer broke in
and stole a very important piece of equipment from my company."

"Oh Jesus, I'm sorry," Elisa sighed, "have you alerted anyone else?"

"Not as yet. I thought you and your partner may want first crack at this. And the clan.
The particulars of his death are somewhat...strange." Demona struggled for the words.

"Strange? What do you mean?"

"It would easier if you came here as quickly as possible. I will meet you at the rear entry
to the building. Please come quickly." Demona hung up rather abruptly and left Elisa to
place her phone back on the base and look to Goliath.

"Gather some others, Big Guy, and I'll call Bluestone and Morgan. We've got a problem
at Nightstone."

****************************************

The clouds had grown in intensity and fury, revealing to the city of a coming storm,
extremely unusual for this time of year. The distant skyline carried flashes of sapphire
lightning in it's murky, misted depths, creeping closer with every frenzied strike.

The area around Nightstone's rear lot had been emptied of all employees, apart from a
cloaked individual, almost lost in the obscurity of shadows looming over the yard. She
was lingering silently over the guard's shattered body, and only turned her angered glare
up to the sky once, to see several large shapes coming closer, carried on the wind.

Goliath and Elisa touched down, with Brooklyn, Lexington, and Hudson behind them.
Shadow, taking up the rear, landed with a loud crash, and lifted himself to a tensed
stance, with no discernible emotion apparent on his face.

Demona motioned them over and watched their faces turn to horror and shock, their
gazes catching the dead human under the white sheet. "I've had this area isolated, we
won't be seen and can talk freely."

"What the hell happened?" Brooklyn asked as he bent down to get a closer look.

"His neck was broken." Demona responded frigidly. "And judging by the marks on his
skin, it was done with bare hands."

"It looks like his head was almost separated from his body." Brooklyn replied, almost
sickened to his stomach as he shut the man's eyes with his talons. "Who could have the
strength to do this?"

"That's exactly why I called you. This wasn't the work of a human. And I've taken
fingerprints off the body so it was organic, not a robot or cyborg."

"A gargoyle." Goliath said quietly as he stood over the body, his eyes meeting his
ex-mate's.

Lexington came forward, looking up into the lavender leader's face. "Are you sure?
Maybe it was one of the Ultra-pack? Wolf, or Lobo? Or even Fang?"

"No, Goliath's right..." Elisa's soft resonance came from below. She was running her
hand over the man's neck, tracing the inflicted damage with skilled hands. "The bruises
conform to a large four fingered hand."

Brooklyn stood up and looked to Demona. "What kind of gargoyle would do this?"

"One who has absolutely no regard for any life. And one who wanted something from
my company." Her expression hardened of painful memories. "Perhaps Thailog." she
spat out his name and scowled even deeper.

"That's all we need. What was taken?"

"A new prototype computer chip...and a deadly nerve toxin. We were in the process of
eradicating it, the last containers were to be destroyed tomorrow." Demona physically
tightened and clenched her fists from beneath her heavy robe. "He circumvented my
entire security system and knew exactly where to go. The motion-detection cameras
caught barely a shadow. He was in and out in less than ten minutes."

"Damn." Elisa muttered under her breath. "And this toxin? Just how deadly is it?"

"Very. In it's gaseous state, even small amounts are extremely lethal. And the antidote
is extremely difficult to synthesize..." Demona was interrupted by her cell phone and she
reached into her large cloak, while turning away from the group. While she conversed,
the clan gathered around, as Elisa pulled the sheet back over the corpse.

"So, now what?" Brooklyn asked.

"It seems we 'ave a killer on our 'ands, an' a very dangerous man he be at that." Hudson
replied as he stroked his beard.

"And he's smart enough to figure out Demona's security system, and he's ruthless
enough to take someone's life for no apparent reason." Lexington added. "I think our
lives just got a little more complicated."

"Yes, we should warn Xanatos about his own companies in case the killer decides to
steal from him. Perhaps Elisa can find out more with the resources of the police
department." Goliath stated solemnly as he pulled his wife closer. He noticed Demona
on the phone and could barely pick out mangled bits of her conversation.

"...I don't care if he wasn't fully covered. I want full benefits for his family. Nightstone
takes care of it's own..."

He cast a small smile her way, as a surprisingly compassionate attitude had seemed to
finally break through her tough facade. Goliath diverted his watchful eye to Shadow as
the dark warrior had split from the group, pacing slowly away from them.

His mahogany eyes formed thin slits, darting anxiously about, causing the others to take
notice. "We're not alone..." he snarled, as he slowly pulled from the holster on his left
arm, a long, binded, weapon, a nunchuku, and it fell to a resting position in his hand. He
crouched, as if ready to pounce, his taloned feet digging into the ground. He flared his
wings and gasped to the frigid breeze, "Someone is watching us."

Demona came forward, having finished her discourse. "Who?"

"Someone," Shadow slowly looked to a section of roof not far from the group, "there!!"

The crowd all followed the dark warrior's inflamed stare skyward, to the roof, just as the
heavens erupted with Elysium's fire. A bolt of lightning streaked across the sky and for
that brief second, a massive, winged form was released from it's camouflage against the
darkness. A long tail lashed behind him and flashes of yellow skin, with thick stripes of
raven hide, appeared to the onlooker's eyes. The air was filled with a maniacal laughter
that echoed throughout the night. And as if the Earth itself shuddered with fear, the
ground trembled for a moment, then returned to normal.

"He's mine!!" Shadow ripped from his stead, becoming a dark blur as he ran to the
fence, jumping to the top in one step and taking to wing. The others hastily followed suit
after recovering their footing, and soon settled where the figure stood not seconds ago.

"Where did he go?" Brooklyn looked frantically around him, scanning the ground as
Lexington searched the sky.

"Save your energy, he's gone." Shadow holstered his weapons and crouched to the roof,
dissecting what twisted prints were abandoned in a swift retreat. "But it seems our killer
has left something, perhaps intentionally." he whispered as he reached for a small metal
shape laying on the roof. He stood to his full height and examined it in his taloned
fingers. "I've seen this symbol before."

Elisa nodded her head as she recognized the metal souvenir. "It's an ankh. The Egyptian
symbol of life."

"But what's in covered in?" Brooklyn asked.

Shadow held it to his nose, breathing in the scent, and immediately recoiled in disgust.
"Dried blood," he gasped, "human blood."

"Crap, who is this freak?!"

"We know it wasn't Thailog," Lexington chuffed as he looked to his taller rookery
brother, "the shape was all wrong, and his wings weren't burned to a crisp."

Demona took the symbol from Shadow's hand and studied it closer. "But whoever he
was, he means to use that toxin. Either as a negotiating bribe, or as a weapon."

"I canna even imagine if he be using it in New York," Hudson growled in his heavy
Scottish inflection, crossing his arms and looking to the group, "millions o' innocent
humans could be killed instantly."

"I think we have a problem people. A homicidal gargoyle on our hands with a deadly
toxin...and from what we've seen here tonight, the will to use it." Elisa sighed as she
pressed back into Goliath, tightening his arms around her. "Just as things were starting to
look up..."

****************************************

Detective Bluestone and Morgan had arrived to take the body and file the usual reports
with Demona, leaving the clan to head back home. Elisa and Goliath immediately went
to check on their daughter, being watched over by her big sister Angela. They relieved
her of her duties and at the crib's edge, tenderly watching the tiny girl sleep. Goliath
held Elisa in his arms, gently swaying from side to side in a soothing measure, while
burying his face in her lush ebony hair.

Elisa turned and leaned on Goliath's chest. "Demona told me that guard had three
children, a boy and two young girls." she whispered. "And now they have to grow up
without their father. What kind of a monster would kill in cold blood?"

"I do not know. We both have seen too much of this in our time together, and before we
even met. There are those who feel tremendous regret for the crimes they've committed,
like Demona. But some have no conscience, no heart, no soul." Goliath said as he
noticed Trinity open her eyes. He reached around Elisa and picked up the small child,
placing her into her mother's arms. "But we will do our best to protect the innocent. We
will find this murderer and make sure he does not have the chance to kill again. This I
swear, for the safety of my children, and those in this city." The couple held their
daughter, and looked on as she fell asleep. "I swear."

****************************************

A flicker of gold captured the pallid rays of lamplight, but it was enough to inflame the
precious metal as it passed by the large wall mirror. A long wooden table laid before
him, and he carefully placed the metal canister down on the lacquered surface, and
gingerly released his talons from a literal Pandora's box of toxic material. He reached
into his belt and pulled out a small silicon microchip, and held it to his face. Deep jet
black eyes studied the powerful computer component and his thin, cruel lips pulled back
into a smile, full of hatred and sick desire, exposing white fanged teeth of a chalky
gleam.

The room was dark as the night, but his eyes could still see with perfect clarity. He
moved to the other side, to what seemed to be a simple bookshelf, and pressed his hand
to a panel. A soft whirring of machinery could be heard as the wall moved away and
revealed a sophisticated computer system. The screens lit up, and with the insertion of
the chip, scrolled figures and formulae at a fantastic speed.

"Soon it will begin," his voice was unfeeling as glacial ice, with a grating rasp coming
from the depths of his throat, "the first strike will commence, wiping the human
infestation from this planet. I will take my rightful place as ruler of this pathetic mudball
and gargoyles will no longer be treated like mindless animals. Those of my kind will
either swear fealty to me or they will die like the humans they protect..."

He appeared before a massive window, overlooking the soft glow of the Manhattan
skyline. "I believe I shall start with this city, this Manhattan. And the gargoyles who
dwell here will either follow me, or perish within the flames of Anubis. Long live the
gargoyles. Long live their future king. Hmm hmm hmm ha ha ha ha HA HA HA HA HA
HA HA HA HA!!!"

And so it begins once again...